Shante Smith (Vivica A. Fox) strikes you as the kind of advertising executive who's moved up the corporate ladder by overselling her products. She certainly oversells herself to us, as she pulls up to her fancy Los Angeles digs in her sexy sports car, proclaiming, "I'm a sister who knows where she came from and knows where she's going!"
There probably isn't another actress anywhere who could make that corny self-advertisement work. And there definitely isn't another actress who could make such an overbearing heroine worth watching for an hour and a half. Fox has shown in roles big and small that she can move between worldly refinement and street sass without any excessive swagger. The fact that she's been placed in the center of "Two Can Play That Game" is the only reason to welcome its arrival.
It's not, after all, as if we've been peeling off calendar pages in anticipation of a distaff sequel to "Def Jam's How to Be a Player," the 1997 so-called romantic comedy in which an overconfident ladies' man gets his comeuppance. Nevertheless, writer-director Mark Brown, who co-wrote "Player," apparently decided that African American women needed their own raggedy comedy about the games men and women play. "Games" is the operative word here. No one in this buppie fantasia, including its creative team, seems to have any interest in leaving the high school of the mind. For Shante, men are malleable, superannuated creatures to be manipulated rather than engaged or even loved. Her seeming command of her own relationship with handsome attorney Keith Fenton (Morris Chestnut) makes her something of a sage to her less lucky-in-love girlfriends Karen (Wendy Raquel Robinson),Tracye (Tamala Jones) and Diedre (Mo'Nique).
But when Shante and her posse catch Keith dancing with another woman in a restaurant, she decides it's time to lay down the hammer through a series of mind games that, even to the most credulous sitcom audience, seems harsh and self-indulgent. She details each element of her "punishment" to the camera, never suspecting the obvious: that her balloon's going to be pierced
All this takes an awfully long time to happen. The tedium is relieved only by the coaching sessions Keith receives from his co-worker and golfing buddy Tony, played with amiable bluster and agile timing by Anthony Anderson. In fact, Tony seems so much more an intellectual and emotional match for Shante than the blandly perfect-looking Keith that you're tempted to wonder if he should be the one who ends up with her. Not gonna happen. Not in this retro world.
MPAA rating: R, for language including sexual dialogue. Times guidelines: The talk is pretty raunchy throughout.
'Two Can Play That Game'
Vivica A. Fox: Shante Smith
Morris Chestnut: Keith Fenton
Anthony Anderson: Tony
Tamala Jones: Tracye
Wendy Raquel Robinson: Karen
Gabrielle Union: Conny Spaulding
Screen Gems presents a Doug McHenry production, in association with C4 Pictures, released by Sony Pictures. Writer-Director Mark Brown. Producers Doug McHenry, Mark Brown, Paddy Cullen. Executive producers Larry Kennar, Robert N. Fried, Scott Wynne. Cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski. Editor Earl Watson. Costume designer Debrae Lee. Music Marcus Miller. Production designer Amy Ancona. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In general release.
'Two Can Play That Game'
This look at love and manipulation among buppies is too familiar
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